How I help Virginia and Stephen face the press

The Agreeable World of Wallace Arnold
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The Independent Online
I TRUST that even readers of this newspaper - so many of you fully paid-up members of what I term the chip-on-the-shoulder brigade - found some small cause for patriotic jubilation upon espying the delightfully natural photograph of Mrs Bottomley and Mr Dorrell taking a turn on a tandem around Trafalgar Square. Could the dourest heart be left ungladdened at such a spectacle? Nay, I think not.

Of course, the two of them were in grave need of the support of ordinary, decent Britons. Mrs Bottomley has been doing valiant work tidying up our hospitals, which, before her bold changes took effect, had become hotbeds of the sick and infirm and - it is often forgotten - were showing quite appalling financial losses in their half-yearly accounts.

Similarly, Mr Dorrell has sometimes seemed a mite uncomfortable in his position at National Heritage, being caught out by viperish journalists as being unable to tell his Archer from his Bellow (I jest!). But sitting close behind Mrs Bottomley, busily peddling away, he seemed very at home. Indeed, it was a role that might have been created for him, and were he ever to apply for the post of rickshaw driver for the British consulate in Calcutta I would have little hesitation in recommending him.

So the two of them have been redeemed in the eyes of the public by one simple photographic sitting, or "photo-opportunity" as the dread Peter Mandelson would no doubt insist upon calling it. "How very pleasant," our old friend Mr Joe Public is thinking, "that two such Senior Ministers should take time off from their busy schedules to enjoy an impromptu ride on a tandem around Trafalgar Square. What relaxed and charming people the two of them must be!"

Little would the aforesaid Mr Public guess that this "photo-opportunity" was not impromptu at all. Far from it. I trust I am spilling no proverbial beans when I reveal that it was a meticulously planned affair, requiring the most precise calculation by Yours Truly. For the past five years, I am proud to have served as an unpaid Image Consultant to Conservative Central Office, tipping Cabinet ministers the wink as how best to project themselves in this age of mass media. Perhaps if I let you into one or two of the "tricks of the trade" you may in future look with even greater admiration on the skill with which Central Office performs its onerous tasks.

My first major decision upon taking up my post was to lend a little gravitas to the ministerial career of Mr David Mellor, who was looking a little shaky following his friendships with Miss (Msss!!!) de Sancha and, latterly, Mrs Bauwens. It was my bold idea to have him photographed dancing gaily with the effervescent Mr Blobby, a great national hero of the time. The message we wished to send out was this: if even Mr Blobby enjoys dancing with Mr Mellor, then who are we, The Great British Public, to pooh-pooh him? Sadly, the Great British Public got the wrong end of the stick, and following calls throughout the nation for Mr Blobby to be appointed Secretary of State for National Heritage, Mr Mellor had little choice but to resign.

This all goes to show that you can't, as the old saying goes, win 'em all, but some of my recent initiatives have enjoyed considerably greater success. For instance, it was I who suggested that Mr Jonathan Aitken, with his unsullied reputation, would be the best possible candidate to take on the more verminous reaches of the Press. It was I, too, who advised him to portray himself as a crusader for faith, hope and charity, the Mother Teresa of the international arms community.

I think I am right in saying that the general public has taken to this image like ducks to water, and I have it on good authority Jonathan is now being spoken of as the next Archbishop of Canterbury but one.

My other notable coups of recent years include advising Mr Jeremy Hanley never to appear without a pillow stuffed down the front of his suit, thus affording him his cheerful, avuncular public image; teaching Michael Portillo how to swagger over six sessions at the London School of Dance; giving Mr Selwyn Gummer a bolder, punchier public image by suggesting he dons Jack Nicholson-style dark glasses; and teaching Mr John Major to resemble a bold, purposeful and intelligent leader, a six-year course which, alas, it now looks as though there will be little point in his completing.